For most, the words “breast cancer” don’t conjure happy feelings. But here’s some breast cancer news that isn’t bleak: Approximately 2.5 million American women who are alive today had breast cancer – and overcame it.
Although statistics say that about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, the number of women who develop and die from the disease declines each year. Why? The likeliest answer is increased screenings and advanced breast cancer treatment.
From statistics to screenings to treatments, breast cancer is a big subject – and it might seem hard to wrap your mind around. The breast cancer basics below can help you understand the disease and take steps to lower your risk.
Reducing Your Risk
Measuring breast cancer risk isn’t an exact science. Doctors can’t always explain why some women develop the disease and others don’t. Some unchangeable factors, such as being age 55 or older, up your risk. Other risk factors include:
- Starting your period before age 12
- Not bearing children by age 30
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Having changes in the cancer-related genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
However, certain risk factors, such as drinking and physical activity, can be altered with healthy lifestyle changes. Following these tips may reduce your risk:
- Consume less than one alcoholic beverage per day
- Stay at a healthy weight for your height, especially after menopause
- Work out four or more hours a week
Stick to Screenings
Experts offer slightly different suggestions when it comes to breast cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms starting at 40 and a clinical breast exam by a doctor every three years for women in their 20s and 30s, or every year for women 40 and older. Women with a heightened breast cancer risk should ask their doctors about the risks and benefits of an annual MRI and mammogram. Talk with your doctor to decide the best screening schedule for you.
“Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, but if caught earlier, it’s easier to treat,” says Glen Garner, M.D., a general surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital. Dr. Garner’s main focus as a surgeon involves diseases of the breast. But he has also experienced breast cancer from the other side – both his wife and his mother were diagnosed with the disease.
“I feel my personal experience with breast cancer gives me an opportunity to help my patients and be more empathetic to their diagnosis and their needs before, during and after surgery,” Dr. Garner says. “And as someone whose family has been affected by breast cancer, I urge women to stick to the screening schedule recommended by their doctors.”
The Breast Care Center at Memorial Hermann Southeast
At Memorial Hermann Southeast, we take this fight seriously. We offer exceptional expertise, state-of-the-art technology and a wide range of screening and diagnostic tools to care for each patient. Just as each woman is unique, so too is our Breast Care Center. Here’s why:
Focused Expertise, Fast Results
Memorial Hermann Breast Care Center-Southeast has a specialized, fellowship-trained breast radiologist. This means that the doctor reading your mammogram or performing your biopsy has the highest level of experience and education in breast imaging. “As a specialist, my goal is to catch breast cancer earlier,” explains Jibi Thomas, M.D., a fellowship-trained breast radiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southeast. “Most mammograms are not read by specialists. My expertise enables me to detect abnormalities earlier.”
Dr. Thomas also meets with patients directly to discuss their results. Patients can ask questions and learn results faster. Most women undergoing a diagnostic mammogram know the outcome before leaving the Center. “Waiting for results can be difficult,” says Dr. Thomas. “We try to reduce anxiety by providing information quickly. We can move forward with treatment right away if necessary.”
The Breast Care Center offers a wide range of advanced screening and diagnostic tools, including breast tomosynthesis (an innovative 3-D technology that helps physicians detect smaller tumors sooner), breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), breast ultrasound, ultrasound-guided breast biopsy and stereotactic biopsy. The Center also helps facilitate care if cancer is found. Our staff works closely with oncologists, surgeons and other specialists, discussing each patient’s case to ensure the best care. The Center’s Oncology Nurse Navigator helps the patient throughout the process.
Helping Patients Win
As a patient advocate, the Oncology Nurse Navigator serves as a liaison between patients and the cancer treatment team. She focuses specific attention on education, delivering information, tools and resources to empower patients and build the self-assurance they need to overcome their illness. The Navigator’s role includes making appointments, assisting with biopsies and even holding a patient’s hand through a procedure.
“My job begins as soon as a patient learns of a possible cancer diagnosis,” says Krystie Fenton, Oncology Nurse Navigator at Memorial Hermann Southeast. “My first step is to assess their readiness to learn and gauge how much they understand about their particular condition. Everyone responds differently to a cancer diagnosis, which is why it’s so important that we customize our approach to supporting patients through their journey from the very beginning.”
When patients are ready, Fenton can help them understand their treatment options so they can make the most informed decisions possible about their care. She also assists with referrals to healthcare providers, support groups and community resources; insurance and financial issues; appointment scheduling; and, in some cases, transportation.
“What really makes our program so unique to residents in the Bay Area of Houston is that we are delivering a vast range of knowledge, expertise and support to patients right here in the community,” explained Fenton. “That’s a tremendous benefit for people battling cancer, especially those who require daily chemotherapy or radiation for extended periods of time.”
The Cancer Program at Memorial Hermann Southeast is accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and has earned its prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award.
Schedule your mammogram and ask about breast tomosynthesis at Memorial Hermann Southeast today by calling 281.929.6485. You can also schedule your appointment online at memorialhermann.org.